Author: Matt Heffernan
The Redfern Statement, compiled by a collective of at least 55 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations and peak-bodies has issued a bold challenge to whichever party is elected as Australia’s government come 2 July 2016, “It is time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard and respected, it is time for action”.
The statement lays out six key priority areas and recommendations, all founded on the pragmatic principals of participation and self-determination:
- Meaningful engagement
- Preventing violence (women and children)
- Early childhood
Ironically, many of the points in the statement reassert the need for the next Government to implement the various recommendations that have come out of Government funded reports and commissions over the last quarter of a century. In addition to the need to restore the $534 million cut from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio in the 2014 Budget.
Early in his tenure, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott established the unelected and unrepresentative Indigenous Advisory Council, made up of a number of prominent Indigenous and various non-Indigenous and or private sector members. Unfortunately the track record for this group and the proceeding changes has been abysmal. The restructuring of the grants and tendering processes for organisations working within the Indigenous Affairs scope optimistically labelled the “Indigenous Advancement Strategy” fund (IAS) was/is a shambles. Essential services such as the Djarindjin domestic violence shelter which services 50 remote communities in WA missed out on the funding (and many, many more Aboriginal organisations), whilst football associations and tenuously related state/territory Government departments were rewarded. It took negative media attention and unrelenting advocacy to reinstate the funding for Djarindjin. After a robust enquiry into the failures of the IAS fund, The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee tabled its report with a list of recommendations to overhaul the woefully inept tendering and grant processes. As of the writing of this article, the recommendations have not been adopted.
Additionally, the cynical and poorly reasoned decision to not renew funding for the National Congress (Congress), the most representative organisation for Indigenous Australians/organisations was another straw. Not only does the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (of which Australia is a non-bound signatory) and its various articles highlight the basic right to self-determination, but the necessity of self-determination as an instrument toward advancement in other areas of socio-economic concern.
What I suspect will be the most salient of issues and recommendations presented in The Redfern Statement though, is the call for treaty. Although the issue of treaty has been somewhat controversial and usually held as a zero sum against constitutional recognition and amendment, it is interesting to note that it’s presented here as a separate processes. The Recognise campaign has been battered in recent years as government back peddling and stalling has led to further disillusionment in the process. Although it has been widely consultative, IndigenousX revealed that support for this process may not be as so universally supported as once believed, as of yet there have been no formal recommendations made to what any constitutional changes would include, an ominous spectre for any Australian even superficially familiar with Indigenous and non-Indigenous political history . Likewise, the calls for treaty have been hampered by wilful dismantling of self-determinative Aboriginal organisations and voices, in addition to no formal negotiations outlining exactly what this framework would entail, and whether this instrument would secure the rights and wellbeing of Indigenous people. The Redfern Statement, seems to have transcended the zero sum mutual exclusion of these positions, and demands at a bare minimum, the right to enter into discussions and consultations regarding the self-determined course of Indigenous Affairs in the future as vital to the reconciliation process.
So how will the current and next government respond? To reject the call of approximately 55 organisations is perhaps beyond the arrogance of any political party, although Indigenous autonomy has been roundly criticised by most media and both parties during its short tenure during the 90s, the merits of what is outlined in the statement aren’t easily ignored. Embarrassingly, most of the requests simply ask the government to follow through with recommendations in reports that they have commissioned. From a business perspective, (at least we know that would be respected) if indeed ameliorating issues surrounding Indigenous communities is an aspiration for government, refusing to sincerely consult with your target audience, rejecting what they do request, undermining them or being blatantly obstructive and insulting is a guaranteed way to fail in your business.
This is an important document presented at a crucible in Australia’s Indigenous affairs history. As the Redfern Statement so boldly states “The health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples cannot be considered at the margins.” We must hold whomever is in power to account, through our voices, petitions, elections and or through conversations with our friend and familial circles. This isn’t far out, left-wing feel good hyperbole, but a statement and request for the just treatment, recognition and most importantly the application of fundamental human rights.